Supreme Court questions move to offer free Metro rides
The Supreme Court took a dim view on Friday of the Arvind Kejriwal government’s proposal to allow women free rides on the Delhi Metro, reminding the state administration that such sops do not go hand-in-glove with claims of the network potentially suffering losses, but directed the Centre to bear half the land cost for Phase IV of the project.
“On one hand you want to give freebies while here you want the Centre to bear operational losses (If any) caused in Metro. As the state government you are bound to ensure policies are such that there is no loss incurred by the Metro,” a bench comprising justices Arun Mishra and Deepak Gupta said.
The bench was hearing the Delhi government’s contention that the Centre must share 50% cent of the land cost, bear an equal burden for operational losses, if any, caused to the Delhi Metro Rail Corporation (DMRC) and in case of a default in repaying a soft loan for the project. Work on the Metro’s Phase IV had been stalled on account of this dispute between the two until the top court last month issued a directive for work to start.
Keeping in mind the peculiar status of Delhi — the national capital administered by its own elected government — and pollution, controlling which is also the responsibility of the Centre, the court ordered the Centre to release within three weeks to DMRC 50% of the ~2,447.19 crore budget for the land cost.
This, the court said, shall not be considered a violation of the policy and would be deemed a departure. The SC has been concerned about growing air pollution in the city and has over the years ordered deterrent measures to prevent toxic vehicular emissions.
But the bench refused to impose any burden on the Union government for any operational losses and default on loan repayments, caused to DMRC, if any, in the future.
“On one hand it (Delhi government) is extending sops but in court it wants direction to Centre to bear 50% operational losses, if ever incurred in future... if you allow people to travel free then it will be a problem, if you give freebies then there will be a problem,” said justice Gupta.
Justice Mishra warned of judicial intervention in case funds were not channelised properly and sops are continued despite losses.
“Here you talk about losses and fighting for sharing costs. You handle public money. Court is not powerless to order proper channelisation of funds... self-treated bankruptcy should not come in the way.” he said.
In June this year, Delhi chief minister Kejriwal proposed free rides for women on all DTC buses, cluster buses and Delhi Metro trains. He had said that the proposal will be implemented within two to three months based on public feedback. The Delhi cabinet is yet to approve the scheme DMRC, in a proposal submitted to the Delhi government, stated that implementing free travel for women would result in an annual loss of around ~1,560 crore, out of which ~11 crore will be incurred by its feeder buses.
The Centre argued that it cannot share the cost anymore, although it is an equity partner in the project, because of the policy prepared for six states where work has started on Metro networks. It said the policy is applicable to all states uniformly and any concession given to Delhi government could lead to similar demands by other states.
“Delhi government is bound to ensure that financial health of DMRC is maintained and no steps are taken so that it may run into losses,” the court ordered.
The court was delivering its order after perusing a report by the Environmental Pollution (Prevention & Control) Authority (EPCA) on the contentious dispute.
On operational losses, the court noted EPCA’s comment that DMRC had never suffered any such losses in five years. “It (DMRC) is not likely to suffer the losses in future also. We find nothing objectionable in case the Metro suffers losses to be borne by the state as Metro is a conveyance within the state and considering the nature of the facility the losses, if any, to be borne by state government. State to also ensure policies are such which do not cause any loss operational or otherwise to the running of the Metro,” the court ordered.
On the Delhi government’s argument related to default of loan, SC said: “Considering so far no default has been made by DMRC we do not find anything objectionable that Delhi government should bear the responsibility to repay the soft loan.”
Phase IV of Delhi Metro will consist six corridors — Aerocity to Tughlakabad, Inderlok to Indraprastha, Lajpat Nagar to Saket G Block, Mukundpur to Maujpur, Janakpuri West to R K Ashram and Rithala to Bawana and Narela.
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